Turkey Damage (or, why I don't let my chickens free-range)

Do you remember in the Little House on the Prairie book (this might be the one on Plum Creek), when Pa planted a huge field of wheat? He planted the wheat, it came up beautifully, he knew he was going to get a huge sum of money when he sold it, so he borrowed against the wheat crop to buy the lumber to build the family a new house. He buys fancy milled lumber on credit and builds this huge (by their terms) two-story house and everyone is happy and then....

... the locusts come.

The locusts descend on the wheat field and they eat it down to the ground. There's not a speck left. The family is devastated. Pa has to leave home to go find work in order to pay off the debt, leaving Ma with a farm, livestock, and three children (and maybe a baby? I can't remember) to take care of all by herself. It's horrible.

I must have read this book 25 times when I was young, and I read it aloud to both my kids, but the thing that I remember most about this part is how Pa would just stand at the window of the house looking out. No expression on his face, just looking out at the millions of locusts, eating up all his hard work and all his profits, leaving him in debt. Total despair.

Now, the good news is, our turkey damage is absolutely NOTHING like this! But I actually thought of this scene when I went out yesterday and found the turkey in the peppers for the twentieth time and I couldn't do anything but stand there and look at the damage. Peppers that I've nurtured from seed since January, getting torn apart by this damn bird who doesn't belong in our yard. A bird that was likely being raised by someone, who for some reason couldn't take care of it anymore and released it in to the wild to fend for itself.

This sort of helpless feeling is the same one I had when I'd walk out and see deer damage, before we fixed the fence. And I've been oh so smug. And the turkey doesn't care a whit for our fence. Turkeys in the wild like to roost 40 feet up in a tree. A domesticated turkey like this one likes to roost 20 feet up. Our little seven foot fence is nothing to her. 

She comes in to our yard from all angles. She flies over from the neighbors yards. She flies over from the street. She comes in at the South side and at the North side, though she definitely prefers the North side since that's where the chickens are. Easy pickings, those bits of seed that the chickens have flung out of their coop with their scratching. Or maybe it's that she's looking for her kin. Turkeys don't like to be alone, and this one is very alone. Which used to make me feel sorry for it. 

But I don't anymore. I'm done with this turkey. I want to catch this turkey and turn it in to dinner. This turkey is decimating squash, corn, potatoes. She has denuded the sunflowers and torn out pepper leaves. I've had it.



A pepper, half the size it used to be

A pepper, half the size it used to be



Tom and I got out the PVC arches and the row covers last night, and covered up the peppers so that as least that's a bit of a deterrant. I have burgeoning basil in those beds too, so I didn't want the turkey to get in there again as she also digs and scratches, of course, and finds and eats the seeds.

This is working fine, at least today, but it's not a long-term solution. It's the wrong time for row covers, the peppers want the sun and heat, and it reduces airflow inside which isn't great in the summer. But hopefully it will keep her out for now. 

This, my friends, is why I don't let my chickens free-range. They would do this damage all over my garden. I can't tell you how much I agonize, keeping the chickens inside their coop, wanting to let them go free free free. But it just wouldn't work, unless I totally caged off all my raised beds. And side beds. And containers. You see the issue.

Meanwhile, that turkey is not long for this world. I'm allowed by law to take it by bow and arrow (I don't have one of those lying around. Does anyone?) or net. Net is the answer. Then I just have to screw up my courage and kill her. I've never done this before. I'm not sure I can. 

I've posted notes on our neighborhood website, I've called animal control and the wildlife museum, there's no help out there. We don't have room for the kind of coop a turkey would need, plus she wouldn't like to be alone, so we'd have to get more turkeys. We can't put her in with the chickens because chickens can give turkeys diseases. Plus the coop is the wrong size. Plus the chickens are terrified of the turkey and press themselves in a clump in the corner anytime she is around. 

Which is ALL THE TIME. Mostly early and late in the day, she always comes looking. Every 15 minutes, we are chasing her out the yard and down the street. Why isn't our neighborhood coyote getting her? What about the bobcat someone spotted two blocks down? I just keep hoping one day she won't show up and the problem will be solved.

And she's a beautiful bird. This is just unfortunate all around.